The Monkees‘ Mike Nesmith understood the music industry as nothing more than a transactional partnership between an artist and a company. He learned early on that the way to make even more money as a performer was by songwriting. While Nesmith pushed for songwriting credit on some of The Monkees’ early releases, one song pushed Nesmith into the stratosphere as a songwriter outside of the band. He claimed Linda Ronstadt heard his 1964 song “Different Drum” and “made us all rich.”
Linda Ronstadt and Mike Nesmith | GAB Archive/Redferns/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Mike Nesmith was a songwriter before The Monkees
Nesmith started writing and performing music after a stint in the Air Force, recording under the name “Michael Blessing.” It was there that he found some small success as a songwriter.
During that period, Nesmith wrote tunes recorded by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys (“Different Drum”), and the Greenbriar Boys recorded it in 1964. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band recorded “Mary Mary” before it was a hit for The Monkees.
In late 1965, a pointed him to a magazine ad seeking “four insane boys” to play in a Beatles-inspired band on a new TV show. This job switch set Nesmith on the path of a television career, but he always knew how important and lucrative songwriting could be. Therefore, he rallied against the powers who ran the behind-the-scenes machinations of The Monkees.
In fact, during his last tour with Monkees, bandmate Mickey Dolenz discussed Nesmith’s songwriting during the concert. Dolenz told the crowd that Nez once encouraged him to write songs, saying, “that’s where the money is.”
“Boy, I wished I had listened,” Dolenz said.
Mike Nesmith thanked Linda Ronstadt for hearing ‘Different Drum’ and ‘making us all rich’
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According to an interview with Nesmith published by Rebeat Magazine, the songwriter discussed the success of “Different Drum” and how it impacted his life.
Nesmith discussed the differences in his version of the song versus the one Ronstadt made infamous.
“Well, that was how I wrote the song — how it is on Hits. It’s got the twang, and it’s got the balance, and it’s got all that stuff. That’s a real kind of mountain music,” he shared.
Nesmith continued, “That’s home-style backyard, a hot Saturday afternoon, and fruit jars full of ice tea. That’s where that comes from. I sang “Different Drum” for John Herald of the Greenbriar Boys like that. He took it home and turned it into the ballad that it became. Linda heard the ballad and made us all rich.”
“Different Drum” would reach No. 13 on the U.S. charts and usher in Ronstadt’s career as a pop and country artist.
Nesmith said writing songs created ‘movies of the mind’
Mike Nesmith | Getty Images/Bettmann
In an interview for the Wall Street Journal regarding “Different Drum” in 2013, Nesmith likened writing songs to making “movies of the mind.”
“Whenever I wrote, I liked creating little ‘movies of the mind.’ I was thinking about two lovers—one of whom decides they love different things. In later years, comedian Whitney Brown referred to ‘Different Drum’ as the first ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ breakup song,” he explained.
“The lyrics, about a breakup, came fast—but they had nothing to do with my personal life. I was newly married, with a pregnant wife,” Nesmith clarified.
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